I’m sure you have heard the phrase ‘history repeats itself’. I use it to convince myself to make dubious purchases when perusing vintage shops.
Thankfully, I’ve yet to be wrong on my reliance of vintage revival, and on resurgent trends from past decades – after all, if you want a quick visit back in time just take a walk through Manchester and you’ll meet Teddy Boys, Hippies, Hipsters, Rockers and Ravers. Aside from our perpetual desire to dip our toe back into the pool of forgotten fashions, nowadays we are very much a society of the right here and right now. Be it fashion or theatre, we ask this: how can history be made to work for the modern audience?
Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes kicked up an almighty storm when it premiered in Manchester in 1912. At the time, it was a radical piece thanks for a series of perceived offences: having a female character as the main focal role, implications of pre-martial sex, class diversity, not to mention the Northern vowels causing their own upset with Southern audiences. It was so controversial that the vice-chancellor of Oxford University banned students from seeing it.
Naturally, the impact of Houghton’s work has lessened over the decades. But are core principles of this early 20th century play really a world apart?
Today, women are still battling a myriad of inequalities compared to men, and there is still a mass economic inequality. Both carry their own prejudices, and this is exactly why Hindle Wakes can still speak to an audience 103 years later.
The plot goes thus: the Hawthorn family are scandalised to learn that their unmarried daughter Fanny has spent a ‘dirty’ weekend holiday with the son of the local mill owner – they expect imminent marriage to right a wrong and make her an ‘honest woman’. We soon discover that our self-determined heroine (played by Natasha Davidson) has her own opinions and intends to take control of her own life.
Davidson’s performance is cool and collected; her character withholds information from her parents as she deems right, and when she does speak each of her points have modern day resonance. A personal remark I particularly favoured was “then it looks as if I’m asked to wed him to turn him into an honest man”.
Although Fanny is the play’s pinnacle of feminism, the other female characters have much to say. Fanny’s mother, sharply played by Kathy Jamieson, is a Lancashire Lady Macbeth. She’s the driving force behind her husband’s actions as she tries to steer the family’s scandal into financial advantage.
The comic relief comes from the one-to-one male conversations, especially between Fanny’s father Christopher (Russell Richardson) and mill owner Nat Jeffcote (James Quinn), with Quinn stealing the show with his impeccable comic timing. He achieves a wonderful balance with his role of the self-made man, shining with confidence thanks to his hard-won wealth, with an underlying nervousness that his fame and fortune could be short-lived and the fear of going from “clogs to clogs in three generations”.
Director David Thacker treats the play with a lightness that works in all the characters’ favour. The drama isn’t over-played, and the actors stay true to their roles and their characters’ beliefs, communicating with complete conviction and power.
And yes, this production works perfectly for the modern audience because it is played and directed with honesty. There’s also an argument that its staging has come at exactly the right time. It reminds us of where we have come from and how we have progressed over the past 100 years, but also holds a mirror to 21st century injustice.
By Kate Morris
What: Hindle Wakes
Where: Oldham Coliseum Theatre
When: until May 2, 2015
More info: www.coliseum.org.uk/plays/hindle-wakes/